A few Owl readers have commented on these posts, saying it they are hard to understand; they’re not sure they got the idea. Part of that is this writer’s fault. (Dropping the Owl persona for a moment and reverting to the vertical pronoun) I used to be a lot worse, flailing away at the keys. If the reader cared, it would be worth it to plow through my tortured grammar. That flies against everything real writers say: Keep it clear and simple; you’re not here to be clever; you’re supposed to be communicating a message. To my readers at that time I apologize, and I probably owe fresh apologies to present followers too.
Sometimes, I say. Because part of the problem is in the nature of the message. That’s what necessitates the item “What the Owl I Trying to Say,” and the sequels on the nature of faith, “What Faith Is Not,” part I, Part II, and Part III. Here’s the rub. (I assure you I know it from the inside, because it kept me from understanding Karl Barth the first few times I tried him.) I thought I was already pretty well versed in Christianity—went all the way through seminary didn’t I? And I guess I was, if by Christianity we mean only the freight with which our so-called Christian culture has loaded our heads. But the Owl asks you to put all that in suspense, and that’s asking a lot.
For among those earlier squibs you will read that faith is not religion; it is not belief; it is not an inner psychological state; it is not moralism; it is not a competitor in a marketplace of value systems or of leisure time activities. Most emphatically, faith is not a human accomplishment; not a decision; not a leap in the dark, not an acquisition of knowledge (pace that seminary).
Well you may ask, then: What is it? Faith is a gift of God, made to an individual on God’s initiative. It may arrive when least expected; it may arrive in unexpected or shocking form; it may not make you happy; you might not recognize it for what it is. But this much is sure: It is first God’s faith toward us from eternity, the covenant he established from the beginning. Two short names for it are Love, and Freedom. God is Love, and God is under no necessity. There is no love without freedom, and by definition freedom has no prescribed content. Take a moment to consider the implications of that sentence. This truth lies behind the saying, With God all things are possible. It would be just as accurate to paraphrase: With God anything is possible, no matter how far outside human powers; no matter how outlandish; no matter how it may seem to violate sense. Resurrection violates sense.
Now perhaps you begin to see why authentic faith has only the most tangential relation with cultural Christianity. I adjure you,, next time you find yourself sitting in pews, think about that. My late mentor Ev Simson once asked, What if Jesus walked into your church in the middle of a service? Wouldn’t he shout: “What are you doing?!”
By all means, go to church, sit in pews, and thankfully partake of God’s self offering, but ask: What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?